Welcome to Lijiang. The tourist-tat capital of North West Yunnan.
And yet despite the constant stream of tourists, the tat that spills out from every door – including the ’very traditional’ and unending collection of bongo drums (eh?) – and the same song on repeat in every shop along every street, it is a beautiful town.
Lijiang is an assortment of meandering side alleys. One cobbled alley complete with babbling brook blends into another pebbled pavement with free adjoining chitchatting creek!
It’s a warren. It’s a maze.
It starts out fun – our laughter ringing off the stone walls.
It turns frustrating – our huffs and puffs melting into the masonry.
It becomes a bloody pain in the arse… I just want a (insert whatever is required here).
Yet even with these distractions the beauty of Lijiang shines through. From visiting Naxi tribeswomen dancing amid the throngs as if they weren’t there…
… To an abandoned alley – and an almost abandoned temple – with prayer flags flitting in the breeze; basking in the sun.
But eventually the tourists get too much – and although you can see why they come – you have to leave them to it. And so we escaped northwards.
Past barren hillsides and fallow fields the bus rolls on.
The muscular young and the fragile old work side-by-side tending fields and flocks in preparation of better weather. The bus rolls on.
Until finally the barren landscape escapes ahead of us and we come to a halt in Baisha. This small unassuming village was once a capital. Before Kublai Khan it was the heart of the Naxi kingdom. And with the snow-speckled Jade Dragon mountains casting long shadows across its roofs it is no wonder why.
The streets were a peaceful antithesis to lijiang and we wandered serenely down cobbled – or even just dusty – streets. Until our eyes fell onto the dark front door of Dr Ho’s.
Creeping up the steps and starring in resulting in being assaulted by the youngest old-man I have ever known – who proceeds to tell me, ’I’m 91, ears still good, sight still good. Ha ha ha,’ before I could get another word in.
Inside Dr Ho’s home/ office/ practice is an assemble of press clippings, doctor’s notes, pictures, interviews, awards, medals, medicine, herbs, boxes, bottles, pills, scraps of this and that, a walking stick, business cards, flags, books, and dust! It is an incredible, living, breathing, 360 degree image of one mans life; a biography like no other.
Dr Ho is a famous man who has been written about countless times. I first heard of him from Michael Palin’s series – Himalaya. Apparently they’ve met twice. He’s a nice man you’ll be glad to know!
After the history lesson it was time for the doctors appointment. Men first… Apparently.
I was – almost instantly – given a clean bill of health. The only medicine I need prescribed was smiles and laughter. Done, in double doses.
Joyce sat down and was asked her age. The doctor stared intently into her eyes. Stroked her hand. Looked at her face… It was an in-depth examination.
Finally he said, ‘#*#’.
We didn’t hear what he said. We stared dumbfounded. He repeated.
’Oh,’ I said, ’P.M.T. Have you got PMT?’
He smiles. Joyce laughs, nods – rather unsure – and through embarrassed giggles issues a ’yes?’ in reply.
But the doctor doesn’t say ’ah, right then’. No, he just says, ’I know, I know, I know’. You see. He wasn’t asking her, he was simply telling. He already knew. We just had no idea what he was saying!
With diagnosis made he began his prescription. Joyce huddled close and listened. I stared around the room unable to understand what was to be given. And then, as quick as a flash he scuttled off into a backroom.
Herbs were pulled from hidden places – herbs collected from the back of Jade Dragon Mountain – crushed, weighed and then wrapped. The patient (un)happy with her diagnosis now had the cure… Apparently.